Water conditioners are a great alternative to water softener systems, but what is water conditioning exactly and how does it work? Understanding the details about what water conditioners are, how they are different from water softeners, and how they work can help you determine if a water conditioning system is right for your needs.
What is a Water Conditioner?
Water conditioning is a type of water treatment that is often thought of as an alternative to water softening. However, these two types of systems function in very different ways and produce different results. Water conditioners are primarily used to remove unwanted contaminants like chlorine, chloramines, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Water conditioners also reduce levels of lead in water.
Not all water conditioners provide the same results. Some water conditioners are used as a salt-free alternative to water softening systems. These types of water conditioners provide some of the benefits of softened water, but don’t actually remove hard minerals from water.
Water conditioners are considered a type of physical water treatment. The benefits of physical water treatment methods like water conditioning are:
- These systems don’t use chemical additives to alter the chemistry of the water supply;
- Often limit or eliminate wastewater discharge;
- Lower ongoing maintenance;
- Lower pollution or disposal costs.
Water Conditioning vs Water Softening
If you are tired of dealing with the impact of hard water around your home, you’ll probably want to first look into a water softening system. These systems are a time-tested method of completely eliminating the effects of hard water around your home. While some water conditioners also provide the benefits of soft water, many don’t alter water hardness at all.
The easiest way to understand a water conditioner vs water softener is a water softener removes hard minerals from water and replaces them with sodium ions from a brine tank. In contrast, certain types of saltless water conditioners alter the structure of the hard minerals in water so they don’t cause scaling.
Conditioned water still contains minerals, however, some water conditioners alter the structure of those minerals so they don’t cause scaling around your home or in your appliances. With softened water, the minerals are actually removed from the water and sodium ions are exchanged in their place.
What is Scaling?
One thing worth pausing on is the issue of scaling. The goal of water softeners and some types of water conditioners is to eliminate scaling, but what exactly is scaling?
Let’s start with the level of water hardness. Water is considered hard if it contains a relatively large amount of dissolved mineral ions. Most often the minerals contained in hard water are dissolved calcium and magnesium. These molecules are bound to the water molecule through an electrical charge and are picked up as water percolates through mineral-rich soil.
When hard water passes over a surface, such as your faucet, shower door, or even the inside of your plumbing, the minerals contained in the water supply precipitate out and bond to the surface they pass over. These mineral deposits are known as scaling.
Scaling may not seem like a big deal but it actually is! On surfaces around your home where scale forms are unsightly, often appearing as a whitish or yellowish deposit, and difficult to remove. But scaling also forms on the inside of your plumbing. Over time these scale deposits will reduce the flow of water through your pipes.
Scaling is a particular problem in appliances or machinery that heat water. In a residential setting, scaling will primarily impact your water heater, dishwasher, or coffee pot, reducing the efficiency and lifespan of those appliances. In a commercial setting, scaling can cause huge problems in industrial boilers. As scale builds in equipment and plumbing, systems experience a decrease in efficiency and equipment lifespan is shortened.
How Does a Water Conditioner Work?
We have a broad understanding of what is water conditioner, and know that some types of water conditioners can change the physical structure of the hard minerals in the water, but how does this occur? In other terms, how does a water conditioner work?
To answer this question it is important to understand that there are different types of water conditioners that offer different results. A traditional water conditioner like the Rayne Executive Series is used to provide whole-house water filtration. These systems filter out the chemicals and compounds that give your water a bad taste and smell, such as chlorine and VOCs.
There are also water conditioners that offer some of the benefits of softened water, such as the Rayne Spartan Series water conditioners. These water conditioners rely on a special type of resin bead known as template-assisted crystallization (TAC) media to alter the minerals in hard water so that they don’t cause scaling.
TAC media consists of small resin beads. Printed on those beads are catalytically active sites known as templates that encourage nucleation. As hard water enters the system, it passes over these beads. As the dissolved minerals in the hard water come into contact with the TAC media, a small amount of the mineral ions come together and form a crystal. This crystal is sometimes referred to as a seed-crystal because it serves as a foundation for other minerals to attach to. Once these seed-crystals form, other mineral ions in the water detach from the water molecules and attach to the seed-crystals.
Once the mineral ions in hard water are transformed into a crystalline structure they will not bond to surfaces the water passes over or through. This virtually eliminates scaling. Are you wondering, “how long does water conditioner take to work”? Surprisingly, the water filtration process happens instantly. With a water conditioner you’ll have the normal water flow you are used to, and lots of conditioned water on-demand.
If you are wondering about an electronic water conditioner and if they work, it’s difficult to make a judgment one way or another. Many people claim they work, and some experiments have supported that. Other research, however, has not demonstrated magnetic or electronic descalers are effective during their testing. If you are looking for consistent, repeatable scale prevention it is best to stick with water softening or a water conditioning system that uses TAC media.
Curious about what the Best Water Conditioner is for you? It depends on what you want out of your water conditioner. If you want water that smells and tastes better, a traditional water conditioning system may be ideal. If reducing the impact of hard water around your home is more important to you, then you’ll want to use a water conditioning system like the Rayne Spartan Series that provides many of the benefits of softened water.
Here are a couple of key features of water conditioners that are worth highlighting.
- Point-of-Entry System – Water conditioners are generally a point-of-entry (POE) system. This means they are installed where your water line comes into your home so can condition all of the water entering your home.
- Energy Efficient – One of the great features of water conditioners is how energy efficient they are! These systems require little to no power, reducing their environmental impact and ongoing operating costs.
- No Brine Solution or Wastewater – Water softening systems, which function through a process known as ion exchange or reverse osmosis, require the use of a brine solution, or salty water, to regenerate the resin beads in their primary tank. While modern water softeners are incredibly efficient, they do produce some wastewater during the regeneration process. Some cities that rely on treated wastewater for irrigation actually ban the use of systems producing brine wastewater. This is more common in arid regions of the United States. In cities with brine restrictions, water conditioners like the Rayne Spartan System offer a viable and economical salt-free alternative that still allows you to avoid the effects of hard tap water.
- Incorporated Multi-Media Water Filtration – At Rayne Water, our water conditioners come with integrated carbon filtration. Carbon filtration relies on granulated activated carbon (GAC), a type of carbon treated with heat or oxygen to expand its surface area. This allows activated carbon to trap contaminants through a process known as adhesion. Activated carbon is excellent at removing VOCs, a group of chemicals commonly found in drinking water. Activated carbon will also remove disinfectants like chlorine and their byproducts, which can alter the taste of your drinking water.
Water conditioners are often promoted as a salt-free alternative to water softening systems, but it is important to understand how these systems differ from water softeners before you settle on a water treatment solution.
Most water conditioners remove the chemicals and compounds that give your water an unpleasant taste or smell. These include chlorine, chloramines, and VOCs. These types of water conditioners are an excellent treatment option if you don’t have hard water or aren’t concerned with eliminating hard water in your home.
Some water conditioners can also provide many of the benefits of softened water. Systems like the Rayne Spartan Series alter the structure of the hard minerals in the water so that it doesn’t cause scaling or buildup around your home. While these systems don’t remove hard minerals from water, they do offer a viable salt-free alternative to water softening systems.
Aren’t sure whether a water conditioner or water softener is right for you? Get in contact with Rayne Water today so one of our helpful water quality experts can help you assess your needs and make a targeted recommendation. It may also be helpful to have one of our technicians perform a water test so you can see exactly what is in your water, and find the most effective treatment solution for those unwanted contaminants and heavy metals.
To learn more about Rayne Water’s water conditioners please contact us today!
- Vastyan, John. 2010. “Template-Assisted Crystallization.” Heating/Piping/Air Conditioning Engineering 82 (11): 34–37.